CACINA

November 29, 2015 Homily at Holy Trinity Parish for 1st Sunday of Advent

Posted in Called, christian, church events, ecclesiology, Faith, homily, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on November 29, 2015

HOMILY FOR THE 1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) 2015-16 (Nov. 29)

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on November 22, 2015

HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) 2015-16  (Nov. 29)

As we announced, today is the beginning of a new church year and each year we select one of the Gospels to concentrate on in out weekly readings. This year it is the Gospel of Luke. Because it is a cycle of three years, we occasionally switch to the Gospel of John during each of the years, but predominately the readings will be from Luke.

Before we delve into today’s readings which come from the middle of Luke, not the beginning, I want to explain to you why there are four Gospels and why they are each a little different, and sometimes quite different.

Suppose I took four of you from this congregation and gave you an assignment. I choose four people who were alive when John F. Kennedy was president and I ask you to write a 3000-word biography of Kennedy, doing very little research but just from the things you remember, things that you may have read about or things you had been told.

Someone with a strong military background might want to show how Kennedy was a war hero and how that affected his decisions as President as in  the Cuban missile crisis, for example. One woman might be enthralled by the idealism of the period – the Camelot years – and so does a portrait of Kennedy and his wife and family, showing Kennedy as a great family man who came from a great and noble lineage. A third person was disturbed by rumors of Kennedy’s assignations that were carefully hidden from the public and so his biography goes into the dalliances that Kennedy carried on. A fourth was intrigued by Kennedy in relation to the other presidents preceding and following him and so did more of a sociological study of how Kennedy’s administration changed what went before and predicted what went after.

The four books that we end up with would all tell the same story – the facts would be much the same. He came from a politically important family, he was a war hero, he was the first Catholic president, he was a wonderful speaker who had a way with words, he helped the  country prosper during his regime, he was a popular president, he was assassinated in Texas. All those facts would be in each book, but the purpose of each book, the reason it was written would be different. Because it was from memory, the events might not have the same chronological order, the stories that significantly affected the author’s point of view might be enlarged or might disappear. But each of the stories holds the main facts and uncovers essential truths.

This might help to explain why we have four Gospels – actually there were many more – but four were chosen to be the most accurate for the needs of the early church.

Luke’s version of the Gospel has all the main points of Matthew and Mark but includes a number of stories that do not appear in Matthew or Mark. That is because Luke had a different purpose. He was writing for a Gentile community and he was concerned with convincing that non-Jewish audience of the truth of Jesus. We will see numerous referencing to witnesses of the Gospel which give his story validity. Luke also wants to shift blame for Jesus’ death to the Jews because he is writing to Romans and doesn’t want to alienate them. In Luke, Pilate says three times that Jesus is innocent, for example compared to once in the other accounts.

Luke says that his purpose is to give evidence through witnesses so that all who read him will know “the certainty of those things.” But he does this with the perspective of a non-Jew. Often the witnessing will occur in twos in Luke. For example, Jesus birth and John’s birth are put together. Both Mary and Elizabeth have revelations that they witness to. Both Simeon and Anna in the Temple give witness to the importance of Jesus. Watch for these.

I will say more about the Gospel of Luke during the coming weeks, but we need to take a few moments now to talk about Advent, a time when we wait for the birth of Jesus in memory and align that with our waiting for Jesus to come again. That is why today we jump to the middle of Luke, basically continuing the ideas that have been brought to us in the last three weeks of the Gospel of Mark.

At this point in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is the prophet – predicting what will come at the end of time when the kingdom will finally be established. It is not a pretty picture – rather scary – actually – and people will be frightened by what is happening and what is to come. The first signs will be natural. Natural upheavals in weather will signal the second coming. Out of this the Son of Man, Jesus, will appear with great power and glory. But rather be frightened, Jesus tells us to raise our heads, to stand up and be aware that we will be redeemed. Jesus tells us not to get so involved in the things of the world and the way of the flesh but leave time to be on guard and watch for the signs. Get your house in order. Turn yourself around – the main theme of advent, the meaning of “repent” – and pray that God gives you strength during this time.

Historically we have been frightened by these words but I think if we are truly living our lives as well as we can, are aware of our spirituality and religion, and are moral beings, loving our neighbors, that this should not scare us at all. St. Paul today stresses strengthening “our hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” In the first reading, Jeremiah is predicting a Messiah who will be called righteous. Well, that righteous Messiah has already come and has “execute[d] justice and righteousness in the land.” Advent is a time to remember that first coming and to repent and turn ourselves around for the second coming. We celebrate that first coming as Christmas Day. We don’t know when the second will be. If it were tomorrow will you be ready?

This is the Good News of repentance that we focus on in Advent. May we begin this week to be more alert and to turn our lives around in preparation for Christmas and the second Christmas to come!

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Homily 4th Sunday of Advent at Holy Trinity Parish December 21, 2014

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on December 21, 2014

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Homily Holy Trinity Parish 3rd Sunday of Advent December 14, 2014

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on December 14, 2014

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, Eucharist, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr. Ron Stephens on December 14, 2014

Homily for the Fourth  Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

Today in the book of Samuel we get the story of David who was rewarded for his faithfulness to God and his wanting to build a place to house the traveling ark of the covenant. God declares that he will in return build a house for David as well, but it is a house that will be established after David’s death,  but from his children that house will produce an offspring whose reign will never end. Again, looking backwards as does Paul in the writing to Romans today, the early Christians saw this as the reign of Jesus, A son of David, the secret for long ages which has been disclosed..

The psalm re-iterates this prophecy and promise: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.”

So that, of course, is the background for our Gospel reading today and why Luke chooses to show the Davidic line of Jesus through Joseph. We have today the familiar story of the angel Gabriel visiting the virgin Mary with the startling announcement that she is to conceive a son, and tells her what to name the child. Gabriel then prophesies that this child, this offspring of David’s line will be great and will be called the Son of God, the offspring of God. He will be the inheritor of David’s throne and covenant, and, in the same words that God used to Nathan, Jesus will be forever the ruler, and his kingdom will never end.

The angel Gabriel appears only three times in Scriptures. He appears to Zechariah in Luke’s Gospel, and to Mary, and in the Hebrew Testament he appears to Daniel. Because the Book of Daniel is so eschatological, which means dealing with death, judgment and the final destiny of mankind, it is appropriate that Gabriel appears here as well since Jesus will reign forever and be the one to come at the end of time.

Only two of the four Gospels have a birth story. Mark was not concerned with the issue and John treated it symbolically. Matthew and Luke retain the same basic facts though the stories are really quite different due to what each wanted to point out. As I stated earlier, Luke’s genealogy goes all the way back to Adam and not just to David. Many of the incidental events around the birth are also different fro each writer as well. Matthew was writing for a primarily Jewish audience while Luke was writing for a Gentile one. This alone shaped what they wanted to show in their stories, and so their emphases are different. Luke also feels that it is important to point out that nothing is impossible with God, especially because the story of the virgin birth is so scientifically absurd.

In just a very few days we celebrate the birth that Mary so amazingly agreed to, with a complete trust in her God. “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to thy will.”

As we make our final preparations for Christmas, let us ponder those words of Mary. For some people Christmas is a difficult season as they remember relatives who have died and won’t be present, or who are alone, or who get upset with all the media hullabaloo going on. Let’s just give in to Jesus this year. Let us be servants of the Lord, accepting the will of God for us. If we can develop that all-encompassing trust of God, knowing that out of all the chaos, misery, suffering, depression, unhappiness that sometimes make up our lives, God has a plan for us, and the ending will be good, despite what it may look like to us now. Trust in his infinite mercy and love. God sent his Son in human form, lowered himself to experience what we experience. He knows our humanity, he partakes of our humanity, and he will empathize with us, and carry us through. That really is the gift we celebrate each Christmas, as we focus on the child, the helpless God in the manger, about to born again in our memories and our liturgies. Let this thought give you peace and a little bit of joy in these hectic last few days, and let us experience the mother’s joy after birth as we welcome the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

And this is the Good News message of trust and peace I want to  leave you with today.

In just a few days we will celebrate the birth that

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Homily Holy Trinity Parish 2nd Sunday of Advent December 7, 2014

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on December 7, 2014

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

“REJOICE!”,  the reading from Paul to the Thessalonians begins today! – one of the reasons we wear rose vestments today and light the rose candle, and this seems an odd word in a season of repentance. But Advent is not Lent and the kind of turning back we do in Advent is much different that the sojourn we take with our single lives in Lent. We turn back to prepare ourselves in order that we can welcome the Messiah and welcome the “day of the Lord” that he brings with him. In that world we can, as Paul says, rejoice, not just today but always, pray unceasingly and give thanks for everything. That is the life of a Christian after the coming of Christ. The advise of Paul to day today to us is wonderful advice: let us not quench the Spirit inside us, let us not throw away the Hebrew Testament but take what is good from it, and try our best to stay away from every type of evil. We will have Jesus’ help in doing this. Very hopeful words.

And Jesus will help us with this. One of the verses of Isaiah that Jesus quotes is the opening verse today is: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me” and “he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives…to release the prisoners and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The spirit of God was in Jesus and it is in us as well, his gift to us to help us as we struggle through our lives, trying to ready for the day of the Lord which has begun but isn’t totally here yet. Some days we feel getting to that day has a long way to go, don’t we!

In place of the Psalm today the liturgy gives us the beautiful prayer of Mary who was facing a whole lot of trouble, a birth when she was unmarried, fear of what would happen. But she doesn’t get down. In fact, she trusts God’s plan for her, and her Magnificat is reminiscent of the person that Isaiah has described, and that Jesus becomes. “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” I wish the translators could use a different word than fear, which in English has all sorts of negative connotations that it doesn’t really mean. Better would be: his mercy is for those in awe of him from generation to generation.We might fear that we are not good enough, but we are in awe of the Creator of all things.

The Gospel today is John’s version of the story that we read from Mark’s earlier Gospel last week, and staying true to John’s very metaphoric and symbolic Gospel, he presents Jesus as ‘light’. Later on he even has Jesus say that he is the light of the world. John the Baptist’s job is to give testimony that Jesus is the light, the Messiah. The gospel writer presents John the Baptist using the words we read last week in Isaiah, and John describes himself as the one crying in the wilderness begging people to make straight the path for God. He again states that his baptism is just a symbol of the washing away of sin, but there is someone coming who will actually wash away sin, and who is so great that John is almost a nothing in comparison. The two versions, though written many years apart, are very complimentary.

So how can we apply this to our own lives this week. I would ask you this week to concentrate on being in awe of God. Think of creation, nature, beauty, art, and face the realization that God is over all these things. He really is, to use the phrase of many today, “awesome”! In appreciating the things of God, the wonders of God, the enormity of God and his universe, we might seem very tiny and insignificant. But, then realize that God really cares for each and every one of us – he goes after the one lamb who has strayed. We just need to repent, turn around and he will be there. So rejoice always, as Paul says, and keep in mind the really wonderful season we are almost through, as we await and awaken to that light that we remember each Christmas day, and that we await to lighten our lives again when Jesus comes in glory.

And that is the Advent Good News the Biblical writers suggest to us today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily December 7, 2014 2nd Sunday of Advent

Posted in Called, Christianity, church events, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on December 4, 2014

2 advent 1Isaiah today is crying out to a people in despair. They have been dragged from their homes and held captive and feel totally cut off and abandoned by God. And, as things never change in some things, they are trapped in Iraq, what then was called BABYLON. 2 advent 2The unrest and volatile nature of the mideast was as intense then as now. Yet Isaiah is telling the people that God has not forgotten them to be prepared for he is sending a savior. In Christ’s time, John the Baptist arose stirring up the people to get ready for the one who was coming. His call was for people to repent, to cleanse themselves and wait for the one who not even he was worthy to tie his sandal strap. His baptism was a sign of change, of renewal, of a new life to give up the old ways. It was different from the Baptism to come. His baptism was self activism pushing ones own will to change and do better. The only problem is that in relying only on ourselves to change is so very hard, as I am sure most of us realize in our experience with the way people are in our 2 adventworld today. Those who rely simply on their own will to change have a long difficult journey to succeed.
However we are Followers of Christ, a baptismal people, a baptism different from John’s. It is a baptism in the holy Spirit who comes and dwells in us. It is the spirit who invigorates us and makes it possible to be faithful followers and to change and make our lives ready and holy to meet Christ and his Father. Christmas each year is a reminder that Christ came and that we need to renew our baptism and life in the spirit. Each and every day the spirit calls us to new life and draws us to himself. Whether it is where we envision 2 advent 3ourself going or not the spirit prompts and leads us and looks over us. Looking back over life, I must say that even with many twists and turns and odd places to be, the spirit eventually somehow seems to lead to a good and peaceful outcome. Sure there will always be challenges and bumps along the way, but our response to the daily ins and outs of life is what exactly defines who and what we are. It certainly tells us if we are a spiritual loner who tries to do it alone or a person of the spirit who turns ourself over to the spirit to lead us on that remarkable journey to meet christ when he comes again.

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# )

The beautiful Advent readings today are all about anticipation of the coming of God prophesied by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, in one of the most imagery laden and colorful passages in the Scriptures, and again by the New Testament prophet, John the Baptist. Even the second reading from 2nd Peter anticipates with patience the second coming of the Messiah waiting for the “day of the Lord”. So much anticipation, so much hope, so much excitement for what is to come. That is the true spirit of Advent and what should happen in the season of expectation.

We begin our church year devoted to the reading of the Gospel of Mark with the very first chapter of Mark today. As I have mentioned before, Mark’s Gospel is my favorite, perhaps because I was an English Lit teacher and I am impressed with how he has written his story – both the deceptive simplicity of it and the rapid movement of it leading to his climax. In the original language it moves very quickly as every sentence seems to be “Then this happened, and then this happened, and immediately that happened, and then….” It is also a bit of a detective story or mystery story, except that we are in on the mystery and we watch everyone else trying to solve it. And trust me, the apostles in mark are not very good at it!

Right from the first line of the Gospel, though, we are let in on the secret of who Jesus is: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”! Mark pulls no punches but tells us straight on that Jesus is the Son of God. Then he proceeds with the rest of this identity story which builds when Jesus asks: but who do you say that I am? and is answered by the Gentile centurion at the foot of the cross who realizes “Truly, this man was God’s own son.”

So for Mark, the anticipation is the wonderful discovery of who Jesus is Mark does not go into any genealogy of Jesus or give us any birth narratives, but jumps right into the beginning of the public life of Jesus. First we meet the prophet John the Baptist, himself prophesied by Isaiah as the messenger of God sent to announce the Messiah and prepare the people for his coming. Right away Mark ties the Gospel story to the Hebrew Scriptures, letting us see that this is the culmination of the Scriptural anticipation.

And what was John supposed to be doing? According to Mark he was first of all, proclaiming the message and vision of Isaiah: getting people ready and fixing up the road so that God had a straight path to us. Secondly, John was asking us to turn ourselves around, the meaning of “repent” and look at our lives and ask for forgiveness, so that we too will be on this straight path to receive the Lord. In the first verses of Mark, John the Baptist did not know who the Messiah would be, but that he would be someone much more powerful than he, and who would baptize not only with water but with the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God would be in him, part of him.

So this first few pages of Mark sets up the movement of the whole Gospel of Mark and even though we now know who Jesus is, we anticipate what will happen when the others find out and look forward to seeing how they do find out.

I do have to say a few more words about the Isaiah reading today, as well, because it is such a moving piece of prophetic literature. God, seen here, is a God of comfort who wants only to speak tenderly to us, to forgive our sins. Isaiah wants the messenger of God to stand on a high mountain and announce the coming. And although he notes that God is a mighty God, and a strong God, we are not to fear God because he is more like a shepherd than a warrior, and he will gather us in his arms and carry us next to his breast, and gently lead us where we need to go. These are the images of God that I hold dear, that give me hope, that allow me to anticipate the second coming and am not afraid of the world being “dissolved” by fire, as Peter describes today. Instead I am filled with peace, which is what Peter asks us to be, because the coming of the Lord then and to come is ‘good news’ and we will be comforted and held in the arms of our God. And that is the anticipation we should be thinking about as Christmas approaches. The Christ child is that image of peace, and so, in the next few weeks of hectic readying-ness, we need to put aside some time to center ourselves, breathe a little, repent for anything getting in the way of that peacefulness and feel God’s arms around us, comforting us and helping us on our journey. That is the peace I wish you this week as we all anticipate God’s first and second coming and the Good News that this implies. God bless.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent Year B 2014-15

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, homily, inspirational, religion, Resurrection, Spirit, Word by Fr. Ron Stephens on November 23, 2014

[Before I get into today’s feast, I want to mention that it is also the feast of St. Andrew, the patron of this parish, St. Andrew was St. Peter’s brother, one of the first to be called by Jesus. He was, like Peter, a fisherman – a family business probably, and so Jesus uses that when he tells them if they come with him, he will make them fishers of men and women. In John’s Gospel we read the Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and , and so when John the Baptist recognized the importance of Jesus, it was Andrew who introduced Jesus to his brother. Andrew was not just an early apostle but one of the close ones to Jesus and, as such, was involved in some pretty important events. He went on, after Jesus’ death to found many communities, especially in Constantinople. Tradition has it that he was crucified, but because he asked for it – to differentiate his death from Jesus’ he was martyred on an X-shaped cross. His feast is the first celebrated each year in the Roman liturgy. He is the patron of Scotland and also the patron of our church. We ask his prayers for us at each Mass we celebrate and are proud to have him as  our patron saint here.]

For today is the beginning of a new Church year, and once again Advent roles around. I like the word “advent” because I always think it is important to look forward to something. Half the fun of something is the anticipation of it. For many children it is the anticipation of getting some new toy, and for many adults it is the anticipation of seeing relatives and friends and having a good time. Unfortunately, because of the furor in the marketplace today, there are some who do not look forward to Christmas or any holiday, but only have anxiety for it.

For me, Advent is a great season because it can put into perspective what it is I really look forward too, and strip away all those false expectations and anxieties created by the marketing and the media. Let’s face it. They just want to make a living, and that is their job – to get you to go out and buy. But the four Sundays in Advent can balance all of that angst by reminding us of why we are really here, what we really should be looking forward to and figuring out how we can get more love in our lives.

On the last Sunday of the year, last week, we learned that we are to be judged simply on how much love we have shown our neighbors. How can we apply that to the Advent season and help to add to our bank account of love? Last week we saw the final coming of the Lord, but now we put that aside and look at the first coming of Jesus, and are reminded of how that coming was stripped away of any richness or revelry. It was simple, it was peaceful, it was calm.

The Jews for the most part have been living in anticipation for centuries, waiting for this Messiah to come. And they kind of missed it, because in their anticipation they imaged , as did Isaiah today, all the mountains quaking and the awesomeness of the event. It didn’t happen that way. Nor did they think that he would make brothers and sisters of us when he came. He was not to be a conqueror but as Paul says today, “by God you were called into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Interestingly the Gospel today is the first of many Gospels we will hear from the evangelist Mark today – actually my favorite of the four Gospels for reasons I hope to explain as the year goes on – but we don’t hear from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel any kind of Advent story. This is because Mark doesn’t have one. As the first to write a Gospel, his is the most spare in details, and in fact, he doesn’t say anything about Jesus until he is about 30 years old and beginning his ministry. So it isn’t a good Advent Gospel in that sense. So what the Church has done is to take a later section of Mark that is about the Second Coming of Jesus, and have us apply it to his first coming.

“Beware, keep alert;” Jesus says, “for you do not know when the time will come.” Certainly that was true of the first coming as well. And his advise to everyone: “Keep awake.” Be on the look out! Keep the coming in mind!

And so that gives us the theme of the First Sunday of our preparation period. Like the Jews waiting for a Messiah, we too should keep awake in case we might miss him.

Within the context of the metaphor, in which we are seen as slaves with a particular job to do in a household while the master is away, we also have to make sure that we are doing our jobs and don’t slack off. And I think that is pretty good advice for Advent, too.

I know that you and I have now been through many Advent seasons, but maybe the job we have been asked to do is changed. Maybe we are asked to show our love and our charity more in anticipation of the master coming home. Let’s not sleep on the job, then. Stay awake to times that we can prove our love for neighbor, that we can service others, that we can provide peace to others in their misery, pain and grieving. Be awake to the opportunities that will show themselves in our loves to be Christ to others.

It is that vigilance, that active waiting, which Jesus seems to ask for today, as we await his coming as an innocent, powerless child on Christmas today. I hope we are all up to it as part of our Lenten observance to balance out the messages of media and marketing.

That is my Advent wish for you and the Good News I present to you today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily December 22, 2013 Fourth Sunday of Advent

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, inspirational, religion, scripture by Fr Joe R on December 17, 2013

If we look back in our country we can see that every generation had the desire to pass on a good life, a better life to their children with opportunities surpassing their own time. They wanted education and better jobs for their children and grandchildren. Many of us have heard the stories of the great depression and the world war II, followed by the baby boom and onward to the present. Common to all these times was the fear of bringing children into a world that was a mess. There was violence, hatred, wars, poverty, homeless, prejudice, people who just couldn’t make it, the high cost of living and of course the cost of educating their children. It would seem that as we get older we become less bold and lose faith that God is with us and those other things are there simply because it is part of humanity. Such is the gospel today. joseph and angelJoseph is a kind man who is betrothed to Mary and finds out she is pregnant. Imagine a young man of any time getting married suddenly finding out his intended spouse is pregnant much less than the fact that it is not his child. I have known potential grooms who ran like jackrabbits and the child was their own, but they couldn’t accept or were not prepared to be a husband and father. Joseph was a devout Jew and compassionate. As was common in his culture he did not want to claim a child not his own. A divorce was a polite way to step aside and allow the real father to arrange an appropriate marriage. Once again we see God intervene, for man’s ways are not His way. Joseph is approached in a dream, confirming what Mary told him and in his faith to accept this child with Mary as his own and name him Jesus, Emmanuel, God is with us. And there, I think, is the point today to consider. As messed up and depressing and painful the world is today, God is with us. He never promised us it would be easy, or painless, or even happiness. He called us to be involved, to walk with him, to minister, to be there.child in crib Can we expect more, when Christ at the moment of triumph called out “My God, My God why have you abandoned me?” I must admit there are many moments of happiness and satisfaction in ministry and service, but hard times come and the constant reminder of God is with us makes it all tolerable. Christmas is special because it is appealing. Who does not love an infant? A child represents all the hopes and aspirations that are at the core of our very selves. Christ’s message goes out people in a way are different, if for only a little time. The poor get food and gifts and people seem a bit kinder. These next days we put aside the worries and cares and pains of everyday life and focus on those we love. We give presents and share our time off. But may I suggest that the greatest thing you could give would be yourself to someone during these times who is in pain or distress. Seek out comfort someone who needs a touch, a friend to hear and see and most importantly share and embrace. Could that not really mean Christ is with us, Emmanuel our special gift?

Homily December 15, 2013 Third Sunday of Advent

Posted in christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, inspirational, religion by Fr Joe R on December 10, 2013

Back in June of this year, there was an interesting story and video on the Today show. A three-year old deaf boy named Jason Clamp had a device implanted in his brain stem and was able to hear his Father’s voice for the first time. It was a marvelous thing to see and reminds me of today’s Gospel. Jesus was enabling the blind to see and the deaf to hear, the lame to walk and even the dead to rise. What Jesus did was certainly not explainable by his contemporaries, and the results of seeing and hearing and walking and other medical miracles are rare even today. Certainly even with scientific breakthroughs and the advanced learning of today, we have not matched the doings of Jesus. He cited these signs and wonders to answer the query from John wanting to know if he is the “ONE” who is to come. john in prisonEven in prison, John was indirectly teaching his disciples by sending them to Jesus. Seriously, John had to know that one way or another he was finished. He gave no slack to anyone who came to hear him, and he even condemned Herod the king for marrying his brother’s wife. Even today that would forebode trouble. Yet even as he awaited judgment, John still inquired of Jesus. Perhaps, he was expecting Jesus to be more combative, to be more of an organizer of the people to lead Israel back to the time and glory of King David. Regardless, the disciples went and encountered Jesus and some did eventually follow him. Also we see the uniqueness of John as Jesus points out none greater had ever been born. John stands as the last of the prophets and the messenger presenting the messiah.

So, you might ask how does this relate to Christmas and Advent? As the gospel unfolds, Jesus is in his thirties and we are preparing for a celebration of his birth. I think the point of the liturgy today is patience and preparation. Advent means coming and the time of preparation take patience to prepare and be ready. As the story of John is the preparation for Jesus to appear, so advent is the time for us to prepare and be ready for Jesus to come again as he did on that first Christmas. Our faith and baptism has formed us and made us Christians but certainly we are not yet complete or perfect. foodAdvent is he time to work on this more intently than we usually do. It is a time for us to turn our thoughts and works to the poor and slighted of our own time just as Jesus did. While we can not perform the wonders and miracles that Jesus did, we can start to look after our Sisters and Brothers and see that they can in one way or another be comforted and find rest and peace in their lives. It seems we all become more sensitive to the needy at Christmas but now is a good time to find a more permanent way to help these people. Didn’t we just hear Jesus say that the least of these could be the greater? It is not so important as to what we give, but that we love and act on it by giving out of love.

Be there, be ready to give not only gift and things, but be ready to give time and self and to listen and interact especially with those who are alone and without family. This I think is the call and preparation John the Baptist calls for in Advent.

Homily December 8, 2013 Second Sunday of Advent

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, inspirational, religion by Fr Joe R on December 3, 2013

Once again as advent begins, we meet up with John the Baptist. He was a stark figure dressed in baptist3-227x300camel-hair and leather, living in the desert. Obviously he was cantankerous since he was challenging the Pharisees and Sadducees as vipers and shouting their need for repentance. He was far out of anybody’s comfort zone in that desert not presenting anything but his words and his baptism. Word of mouth must have been strong because he quickly drew all kind of people to hear him and experience his words. Today, we would go to our computers or TV’s and search out the far out and unusual and never leave the comfort of food and home. Yet, I think the change to today is exactly the challenge Christians have today and have to recognize that as John called out the satisfied comfortable Jews in his day, so we are being called out to get uncomfortable for we have yet to bring about the kingdom of God to our world. Complacency can destroy all most any undertaking, and satisfaction is probably one of the greatest temptations to keep moving on and achieving new heights. Since the Catastrophe of World War II the world has moved as never before with human achievements exponentially expanding everyday.

Certainly God has kept up with this, but have we. Like in the dark ages of the church, are we making judgments based on limited human understanding of things as was done with the limited sciences of the middle ages? Christ is coming, but Christ has come and HE IS HERE in His Spirit. Everyday he challenges us to hear his voice, to see our fellow humans as kindred spirits, caring for them as He Himself did in His time. Face the fact you can never do enough, but don’t find comfort in it. Oftentimes, it is easy to accept the maxim that this is the way it is. It is the nature of human beings to institutionalize and organize and make rules and laws in the name of order and right. However, is it right to impose what we think and don’t often do. How easy is it for prejudice and other emotions to sway our thinking and concerns. These often are things we learned and not absolutes. In fact Jesus taught only one absolute and that was love.

smoke bench HRLove is the challenge that really challenges us today. It calls for us to give and then give more. It looks at the person and and their good, how the love of God can be brought to them. That is the challenge and the constant call: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Are we ready for this Advent challenge? It is not new, but it needs to be refreshed for all of us need to be reminded that we get distracted, get into schedules, concerns, work and all kind of things that take up our daily life. Now is the time to get aside and reflect and in a sense disconnect from the daily to our virtual desert and hear the words of John to make ready and renew and prepare and have a really loving unfrazzled Christmas.

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A 2013-14

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, ethics, inspirational, religion, scripture, Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on December 1, 2013

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A  2013-14

Bishop Stephens’ collection of Year A homilies from past year A’s is available online at Amazon.com. It is called Teaching the Church Year.

 

I have a tree-like plant on my back deck. I have no idea what the name of the plant is, but I bought it two summers ago and was told that it was a not a perennial and that it would have to be thrown out at the end of the season.  I never got around to doing more than clipping it down last autumn, however, and was very surprised the next Spring to see blooms on it. It was even nicer this year than it was last! A pleasant surprise!

Our first reading – one of the most beautifully composed of all the prophecies – is something like the story of my plant. The plant could be compared to Jesse who is the main root and stem. Jesse was the father of King David, the first of the Hebrew kings, and for around 400 years the descendants of Jesse were the Kings of Israel.  But all of this came to an end, the season’s end one might say, when the Babylonians came and conquered as the first of many nations to enslave the Jewish people. After the winter of the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, it seemed like the root of Jesse would never blossom again. But it does, of course, in Jesus Christ.

The prophet Isaiah describes this re-blossoming of the root of Jesse, and even more, describes the descendant that is to become the King of Israel.  From earliest times, this has been seen by Christians as a description of the Christ – Jesus.

In the most beautiful of images Isaiah describes how the Lord God’s spirit will rest on this person and bring wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the lord. Some of you might recognize these as part of what we say the Holy Spirit brings us with the sacrament of Confirmation – the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The rest of the description seems to describe Jesus and his teachings so well: He shall not judge by what his eyes see or ears hear; he judges the poor with righteousness, he brings equality to the weak, he speaks with great courage, and puts down the wicked with words rather than with weapons. He is clothed with righteousness and faithfulness.

Then Isaiah does more than describe the inner qualities of the Messiah, but explains “what” the Messiah will do and bring to us. These are images of a non-violent world, a peaceful world, a child’s world, with not hurt or destruction – almost a new Eden.

Finally, he brings out the theme that I mentioned last week that would be an ongoing theme in both the Gospel of Matthew and the readings this year: “The root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the people; the nations shall inquire of him...” (Is. 11:10)

When Jesus tells us to go out to all the world, to evangelize, he is fulfilling what Isaiah says the Messiah will ask us to do so that “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.” (Is 11:9) No wonder the early Church saw this as a description of Jesus – a Messiah who was not a typical King, but offered the promise of a new Paradise, a new kingdom. Jesus, the blossom that this root of Jesse produces after it has been pruned, offers so much more than we or the Hebrews could ever have hoped for. Salvation!

The Psalm today re-iterates much of what Isaiah has prophesied, with some of the same imagery. The result in Psalm 72 is also the same – a new Paradise, a new Kingdom where righteousness flourishes and peace abounds, “till the moon is no more” – in other words, till the end of time.

Paul in Romans today picks up Isaiah’s  theme of evangelization as well, reminding us that the Hebrew Testament says that we must go out to the Gentiles so that the Gentiles “might glorify God for his mercy.” (Rom 15:9).

When we get to the Gospel we read the first section of Matthew writing about John the Baptist. Like Isaiah, John was seen as a prophet as well. We are told that Isaiah prophesied John himself when he foresaw the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. By today’s standards, John was not a very attractive person. He was a recluse –  dirty, rather wild and strange looking.  But people were attracted to him because he was a dynamic, if somewhat frightening speaker. He was not afraid to tell off the Pharisees and the Sadducees, even when they were coming to him for baptism. To be baptized by John, a person had to be repentant, they had to confess their sins.  John did not feel that the Pharisees or Sadducees were truly repentant, but were hiding behind the laws of Abraham, legalistic, and not caring for others. It reminded me of Pope Francis recently calling the Curia a leprosy on the Vatican! John was rather like that with his “Brood of vipers!”

Then John explains what has to happen to be baptized by him – there has to be sorrow and repentance shown because he himself was not able to forgive. Forgiveness came from inside and from God. Baptism was only the outward sign of it. When this person who is to come after him, this Jesus comes, John says, he will baptize differently – with the Holy spirit and fire! He will be able to see the truth in every person and know who will bear good fruit and who will not. His baptism will open the kingdom of heaven, lost by Adam and Eve, and those who are good fruit will be gathered to enter it.

What does all of this mean for us today? It is more than just a history lesson and a beautiful description of the prophets regrading Jesus, the Messiah. To answer that, I would like to go back to my little deck tree which I pruned and which surprised me by blooming. Advent is a time for pruning, as is Lent.  It is a time to look at ourselves and to examine our motives for doing things. We need to prepare the way for Christ to come into the world again through us. We need to prepare for the birth of Jesus as a rebirth for ourselves – to prune away the things that get in the way of new growth. We need to look to the needs of others and, as in Isaiah, answer the questions that the nations, the unbelievers, will inquire of us. We need to live our faith to the fullest and to integrate our Sunday experience in a our daily lives. We need to rekindle our relationship with God, using the gifts the Spirit has given us in Baptism and Confirmation, and by blossoming, showing the world that the kingdom, the new Paradise, the new Eden, is possible – even on earth.  It’s a big path to straighten, but well worth it! And how wonderful our Christmas will be as we perhaps recognize the first blossoms of our rekindled relationship with God and with others.

And this is the Good News I wish you today on your Advent journey!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese

Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

Homily December 1, 2013 First Sunday of Advent

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, inspirational, religion, scripture by Fr Joe R on November 26, 2013

As we begin December, the new liturgical year begins and the gospels cycle to the readings of year A, with the gospels switching from Luke to Matthew. At the same time the season of Advent begins as we rapidly approach Christmas. Typically you would think that the beginning of a new year would be a big celebration similar to what we do January first. However, the church calendar singles out the theme of Christ’s second coming and the end of the world. Matthew tells us to be watchful and be prepared as like a thief in the night, we have no idea when Christ will come. The expectation of Christ’s return was expected soon by the early Christians, but as Matthew wrote the wars and other signs of the end such as storms stormand earthquakes even including the destruction of the temple had happened and still Christ had not come. Christ’s contemporaries were dieing Certainly death was the end and Christ was there to meet them with his Father. Certainly the message to be prepared and ready always was one that is pertinent even to today. All of us face God’s judgment, but the how and when and the mysteries of time and space and the Spiritual is really beyond our comprehension now save for the eyes of faith. Losing a loved one or even facing death itself is terrifying to some and welcome to others depending on their faith and their disposition to God. michaelangeloHopefully, our earthly life is only a mirror or preparation for a future life. How we are now certainly is going to be what we will be. If we ignore God’s call now, What can we expect for the future. But then, remember that all is not lost. God’s love is never-ending and faithful and is always ready to embrace us. Until the moment we have no more earthly life we can surrender to that love, we can seek forgiveness and still be with Him. The thing is it must be sincere and timely. Procrastination can be dangerous as we could be too late. If we don’t know the day or the hour, why do we wait. When we go to an important event, we go in plenty of time. We prepare and we wait so as to share in all the event’s happenings. Yet, what is more important than our eternal future? What have we done to prepare? If we are living our lives right, then we are prepared and there should be no fear. Only you and your God know your readiness. Only you can judge yourself and only God knows you as well as you know yourself and can judge you also. So today we are reminded to look at ourself and if there is anything we need to change, now is the time and opportunity to do so.

Homily December 23, 2012 Fourth Sunday of Advent

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, inspirational, religion by Fr Joe R on December 17, 2012

Once again this week, we are brought another voice from the distant past the prophet Micah, who like Zephaniah last week, is heard only once in the cycle of readings in the lectionary. He is speaking from a time when the world was a mess, Jerusalem was surrounded by the Assyrians and the prophet is making a promise of peace on God’s behalf, hardly a plausible message to his hearers. It is a message that only God can bring about and so he does in Jesus. But Micah in his own way is telling us that God will do it his way. He point to the smallest tribe and the tiny seemingly insignificant city of Bethlehem. Once again, the supposed weak link is the strongest.

In the gospel, instead of the Annunciation which is recounted twice in the Gospels and is used on the fourth Sunday of Advent in the other two cycles of the lectionary, it uses the Visitation on this fourth Sunday of Advent in this cycle. An obscure, barren old woman, and a young pregnant teenager become the vehicles today to announce the coming Savior and his precursor, John. Mary is blessed because of her faith, that is her obedience to God’s will in bearing the child. She hears God’s word and keeps it. Mary is blessed, not for what she was in herself, but for her relationship to the Incarnation, a special sharing in God’s will. In these two, God has again taken the obscure and unthinkable and put it at the beginning of his work. Again, His way, not ours.

Finally, Hebrews reminds us today that Christ coming was an act of perfect obedience to his Father. He totally gave up his will to his Father, taking on a humanity, making himself a perfect instrument of obedience to the Father. Thus the act of atonement begins with life, and with his coming death and resurrection bringing about the one-act which for all time atones for all of humanity. Again, God’s way, not ours.

So, Christ is near, Christmas is going to happen. Remember, he comes in many strange ways and surprising circumstances. Look for where he is not where we expect him. Who after all, would have looked for a family in a stable. Today, he could be in a box on the street, under a bridge, or huddled alone in some far corner of one of ours or a friends’ house. He could be who knows where as God will have it his way. Are you ready for Him?